Examining State Ballot Issues: Issue 1

‘’I’ve received numerous emails over the last two weeks asking my views on a number of statewide issues on the November 4 ballot — Issues 1, 3 and 5. For what it’s worth, below is the first of my humble assessments of these three ballot measures seen through the lens of corporate power/democracy. The questions that are important to me in examining each Issue are:
Will passage of the Issue provide business corporations more or less rights, rules and/or powers to do what they want, when they want, where they want?
Relatedly, will passage of the Issue make it more or less difficult for citizens to govern themselves?
With these two questions in mind, below is my assessment of state Issue 1. Similar assessments on Issues 3 and 5 will be shared over the next few days.

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State Issue 1

The main provision of Issue 1 calls for an earlier filing deadline for citizen-initiated statewide ballot issues from 90 days before an election to 125 days. It also establishes deadlines for county board of elections to validate citizen petitions. Its last provision calls for streamlining citizen-initiative petition legal challenges by bypassing lower courts in favor of the Ohio Supreme Court.

Citizens concerned about their power to directly create laws (i.e. called a “citizen initiative”) should be extremely skeptical whenever any proposals are offered to amend the citizen initiative process.

It was the 1912 Ohio Constitutional Convention, which created 3 direct democratic tools — the initiative, referendum and recall. These tools permitted citizens to create and undue laws considered to be unjust, as well as to replace public officials between elections acting against the interests of the people. These democratic tools were added to the state constitution as a way to counter the corporate influence to mold, shape, and create public policies…and politicians. These tools are still needed today more than ever.

Anyone who has ever been involved in any citizen initiative campaign knows the extreme difficulty in collecting valid signatures. The more grassroots the initiative, the fewer the resources and petition circulators. Every single day is needed to collect names with the goal of gathering at least 50% more than the number of valid signatures required to account for those that will be tossed for any number of reasons.

Under current state law, completed citizen initiative petitions need to be submitted 90 days before the November election to qualify for that election. For those keeping track, that means early August. Issue one would move back the deadline 35 days — to the middle of June.

This stifles democracy.

It’s much more difficult to collect signatures in the winter and spring than during the summer here in Ohio. A mid-June deadline for signature submissions would effectively reduce the ability to organize a successful petition drive.

One might argue that petition circulators should just move indoors. Unfortunately, inside spaces are increasingly corporate spaces. One is generally not permitted to circulate petitions in workplaces or in corporate establishments — including malls. The first amendment right to petition doesn’t exist on corporate property. The corporate enclosure of what formerly had been public town squares significantly reduces the ability to speak, organize…and petition.

Issue 1 is being promoted as a means to increase efficiency and effectiveness of boards of elections to count and verify citizen petitions. Such is the perspective from the top looking down.

For citizens dedicated to making creating rules and laws that bypass legislative and executive bodies (people at the bottom looking up), making it more difficult to organize a successful citizen initiative petition is a step in the wrong direction.